Manchester United 2-0 Sunderland
Louis Van Gaal’s side could not afford to lose in the hotly contested race for a Champions League spot. This week’s matchup saw Radamel Falcao return to the starting lineup after being sacked for United’s last game against Swansea City. It still appears as if the Red Devils haven’t fully settled into their Dutch manager’s system, and the game against Sunderland did nothing to allay concerns amongst the fans. It was a sloppy first half from both sides with countless attacks going to waste due to poor passing in the midfield. Ashley Young, who was making his first start since January 1st, had the best opportunity of the half when he saw his cross deflected against the crossbar by former United defender John O’Shea.
Van Gaal made a controversial decision to start the second half as he subbed off United’s record-signing Angel Di Maria and replaced him with Adnan Januzaj. The 20-year-old winger repaid his manager’s faith, as he was one of the side’s best players for the remaining 45 minutes. His creative influence on the wings allowed the Red Devils to create more chances and give more purpose to their possession. The breakthrough finally came in the 66th minute when Falcao, who had been largely anonymous throughout the match, flashed his talent inside the box as he expertly brought down an Ander Herrera cross and forced Wes Brown and John O’Shea to drag him down inside the area. After some confusion about who deserved the red card for the foul, Wes Brown drew the short straw; Wayne Rooney stepped up and placed his shot into the side netting to give United the lead.
The remaining 20 minutes saw the Red Devils play some of the best soccer of their season. The midfield finally looked comfortable in possession and it seemed like just a matter of time before United would go two up. It took longer than anticipated, but in the 84th minute, Januzaj blazed a shot from a tight angle that was parried into the path of Rooney who headed in his second of the day. The 2-0 result saw United maintain their fourth place position, while Sunderland remain at 16th only three points above the relegation zone.
Liverpool 2-1 Manchester City
The most anticipated matchup of the weekend was Manchester City’s trip to Anfield. Liverpool were going into the fixture undefeated in their last ten league matches, while City were coming off just five days rest since their Champions League defeat to Barcelona. After a hectic start to the match, Jordan Henderson brought the Liverpool faithful to their feet in the tenth minute with a wonder-strike from outside the 18-yard box into the top corner of Joe Hart’s net. City’s star man Sergio Agüero came close to equalizing just three minutes later only to see his effort beat Simon Mignolet but strike the post. It only took ten more minutes more before Kun Agüero flashed his class again. This time, the Argentine slotted a masterful pass to Edin Dzecko inside the 18-yard-box for the Bosnian forward to finish. There was no mistake this time as the Citizens equalized.
The sides entered the second half still tied at one a piece, but the action was non-stop for the remaining 45 minutes. Amazing performances from Liverpool’s Philippe Coutinho and City’s David Silva in the midfield created key chances for both sides, while the defensive lines looked shaky at best at either end. In the 75th minute, the deadlock was finally broken. An inspired effort from Coutinho saw the Brazilian midfielder continue his run of amazing goals as his shot found the back of the net to put Liverpool up for good. The remaining 15 minutes saw amazing opportunities fall to both sides with Daniel Sturridge and Silva coming closest to getting their names on the score sheet.
This result was very important for the two sides as the Reds continued their climb up the table and now sit fifth, only two points out of the last Champions League spot. City, on the other hand, lost valuable ground in their pursuit of league-leaders Chelsea, who are now five points ahead with a game in hand. Manuel Pellegrini’s side faces an uphill battle if they have any hope of retaining their title.
Arsenal 2-0 Everton
After leading Everton to a fifth place finish in his debut campaign with the club, Roberto Martinez would have surely expected another great season during his second go around. However, his side came into Sunday’s match sitting 12th in the table, 20 points behind Arsenal. The Gunners, on the other hand, were coming off of an embarrassing defeat at home against Monaco just four days prior in the Champions League. Domestically, Arsenal was in a fine run of form having won 11 of their last 12 league games.
Within the first 20 minutes, it looked as if Everton were going to add on to Arsenal’s home woes, but their record signing, Romelu Lukaku, failed to take advantage of his break away and allowed David Ospina to dispossess him inside the area. Just ten minutes later, a Santi Cazorla cross nearly led to an Olivier Giroud goal, only to see the big Frenchman head his effort just wide. Giroud again found himself on the end of a cross in the 39th minute, this time courtesy of a Mesut Ozil corner, and whipped in a volley past a helpless Tim Howard in net to give the Gunners the lead.
In the second half, Lukaku again had a glorious chance within the first twenty minutes of play. The big Belgian forward beat his defender to a Ross Barkley through ball but saw his shot sail wide from six yards out. Six minutes later in the 72nd minute, Everton’s newest signing, Aaron Lennon, nearly scored his first goal for the club but again Ospina denied the Merseyside squad from equalizing. It was the substitute, Tomas Rosicky, who finally put the Gunners two goals up in the 89th minute. Everton captain Phil Jagielka accidentally redirected Rosicky’s long distance effort past Howard which effectively ended the game. Arsenal maintain their third place standing, while Everton now sit 14th and only six points above the relegation zone.
West Ham United 1-3 Crystal Palace
Burnley 0-1 Swansea City
Newcastle United 1-0 Aston Villa
Stoke City 1-0 Hull City
West Brom 1-0 Southampton